Bush Credits Policy with Salmon Increaseby Wayne Washington, Globe Staff Writer
Boston Globe, August 23, 2003
BURBANK, Wash. -- President Bush toured a hydroelectric dam yesterday that generates power from the steel-gray waters of the Snake River, taking credit for the swelling number of commercially vital salmon in the area and arguing that his administration has succeeded in striking the right balance between serving the needs of people and protecting a fragile environment. "We can have good, clean hydroelectric power and salmon restoration going on at the same time," Bush said.
Bush's visit to the Ice Harbor Lock and Dam in the southeastern part of the state capped a two-day trip to Oregon and Washington where, with next year's election drawing closer, he is attempting to convince voters in those swing states that he is not the slavishly probusiness, antienvironment president his critics contend. As she has at other environment-themed stops, Interior Secretary Gale Norton introduced Bush as a "compassionate conservationist."
Environmentalists counter that the Bush administration puts "polluters before the public," as John Stanton, vice president at the National Environmental Trust, put it.
That is criticism Bush and other Republicans have endured for years, and it carries a potent sting on the West Coast, where voters place a high priority on protecting the environment.
Bush lost Oregon by 7,000 votes out of more than 1.5 million cast in the 2000 election, and he lost Washington state by 5 percentage points.
An internal memo from pollster and strategist Frank Luntz to Republicans, written before the congressional elections last year, offered a blunt assessment of the importance of the environment to the party: "The environment is probably the single issue on which Republicans in general -- and President Bush in particular -- are most vulnerable."
The memo advises Republican candidates to "assure your audience that you are committed to `preserving and protecting' the environment but that `it can be done more wisely and effectively' " through market-based strategies.
Bush has stayed true to that strategy during stops in the Northwest. Critics say the memo is another sign that the president is more interested in public relations.
Stanton, who worked in the Environmental Protection Agency during the Clinton administration, said the first troubling sign for environmentalists came two months after Bush took office, when he reneged on a campaign pledge to mandate that power plants reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
In a letter to Republican senators at the time, Bush contended that the country faced an energy crisis and that further regulation of power producers would make it difficult for Americans to heat and cool their homes. Power producers had lobbied hard for just such a position change, which angered most Democrats and some Republicans.
The switch, Stanton said, "foreshadowed everything we saw on the environment."
Since then, environmentalists insist, the administration has endangered the environment by commissioning a study of global warming instead of acting aggressively to limit carbon dioxide emissions, moving to allow power plants to put off upgrades that would reduce pollution, reversing Clinton's effort to reduce the amount of arsenic in drinking water, and refusing to put money into the Superfund program created to clean up toxic dumps.
Ben Lieberman, director of clean air policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that stresses a free-market approach to environmental issues, said the Bush administration has been unfairly criticized for positions that were similar to those taken by Clinton's.
Clinton, Lieberman noted, did not press for Senate ratification of the Kyoto treaty. And the scientitic community is far from unanimous on the environmental effects of carbon dioxide, he said.
Environmentalists are simply attacking Bush as they would any Republican, Lieberman said. "There's plenty of room for criticism," he said, but "Big Green has become about as partisan as Big Labor, in my opinion."
Yesterday Bush said the rebounding numbers of salmon, steelhead trout, and chinook salmon are proof that his administration is on the right path. Administration officials say Bush has increased funding for salmon restoration and approved a conservation agreement with local communities while keeping a promise not to lower water levels below what is needed to produce electrical power.
"We're concerned about the fish," Bush said, "but we're also concerned about the citizens."
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